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Two of the history tomes that I am working my way through this summer are Rick Atkisson’s The British Are Coming and Nigel Hamilton’s The Mantle of Command: FDR at War 1941-42. Both are first volumes of trilogies, one that examines the American Revolution and the other that chronicles America’s entry and conduct of World War II. I am grateful that I have two richly detailed and well-written books from which to choose in my daily and nightly reading.
Hamilton’s book was a bit of a surprise. His trilogy (the last volume has just been published) looks at Franklin Roosevelt as commander-in-chief — the attitudes he had and the decisions he made. I checked the book out of the library thinking I would probably just read the first chapter or two, but I found his approach so fascinating, I kept starting new chapters. Hamilton gives Winston Churchill credit for inspiring Great Britain to fight on alone during the disastrous events of 1940 and 1941, but he doesn’t think much of Churchill’s strategic or tactical thinking. It was FDR, he says, who really should get credit for the Allies’ winning strategy.
In addition to these histories, I have a novel or two always on the table beside my reading chair. I will say something more about them next week.
With these books in mind, I hope that your reading time is rich and rewarding.
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Emma Lazarus and the huddled masses
We remember Emma Lazarus — if we remember her name at all — for one thing: the poem “The New Colossus,” which is inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
The two lines from that poem are two that most of us can repeat:
Lazarus was one of the first successful and highly visible Jewish American authors. She advocated for Jewish refugees and argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland before the concept of Zionism was in wide circulation. After the publication of Songs of a Semite, she traveled to England and France and met and befriended poets and writers such as Robert Browning and William Morris. Source: Emma Lazarus | Poetry Foundation
Lazarus was born in 1849 into a wealthy, old-line Jewish family in New York City and became fluent in German and other languages as well as English. Her first collection of poetry, Poems and Translations, which she composed as a teenager, was published privately by her father in 1866 and contained not only her work but translations of famous German and French writers. It drew the attention of notables such as William Cullen Bryant and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Her next book, Admetus and Other Poems, found a commercial publisher in 1871 and was dedicated to “my friend” Emerson. She continued writing through the decade, publishing poetry and essays. When she read George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and its exploration of Jewish identity, she became interested in Jewish history and especially in Jewish immigration.
For centuries, Jews had been expelled from one country or another, and the more Lazarus found out about that history, the more interested she became. That interest grew into social activism that advocated programs and institutions to help indigent Jewish immigrants coming to America. Lazarus’ work with immigrants and her study of Jewish history led her to be one of the first advocates of establishing a Jewish homeland.
The interest was, of course, reflected in her writing and her poetry. One such poem, “1492,” combined two historical facts: it was the year Jews were expelled from Spain and also the year Christopher Columbus found American shores.
In 1883, she had been asked to write and donate a poem to the efforts to raise money for a base on which to set the Statue of Liberty. At first, she refused but then reversed herself and wrote “The New Colossus.” She donated the poem to an auction for the effort. It was first read at an exhibit for the fundraising effort in 1883, but when the fundraising campaign ended and the exhibit closed, it was largely forgotten.
Lazarus died in 1887 at the age of 38. She never married, and her work and writings never achieved the pinnacle of American letters. A lobbying campaign by a friend of hers resulted in her poem being engraved on a plaque and set in the base of the statue in 1903.
Guns, mental illness, missed signals: David Krajicek goes inside the minds of men who murder
David Krajicek, who writes a true-crime column for the New York Daily News, has published a book that attempts to get inside the minds of those who kill a lot of people: mass murderers.
The book is titled Mass Killers: Inside the Minds of Men Who Murder, and to write it Krajicek looked at the writings and recordings of those who commit such crimes. In a recent article in TheCrimeReport.org, he summarizes some of his findings:
Three factors turn up frequently: mental illness, easy access to firearms (especially assault rifles), and missed signals by parents, law enforcers, school officials, or other authority figures. Many seek to blame others and exact revenge for a history of personal failure. Socially and emotionally isolated, they strike out after an event that they blow out of proportion—a breakup, for example. Source: Inside the Minds of Men Who Murder | The Crime Report
But the phenomenon of the mass murderer is more complex than simply looking at psychological or environmental factors.
The mass murdered suffers from some kind of deprivation — sexual, social, etc. — that he (they are almost always male) spins into a narcissistic excuse for taking the lives of other people.
Many (of the writings and recordings of mass murderers) share what another academic researcher called “common psycholinguistic themes,” including a “pseudocommando mindset” and “heroic revenge fantasy.”
This article in TheCrimeReport.org is brief and fascinating.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
The practical, victorious, but less-than-glorious fight for women’s suffrage
We are entering a period when, for the next year or so, many Americans will be celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote nationwide.
The history of the ratification fight is often presented as glorious and ultimately victorious, a great confirmation that sometimes our political system can in fact get it right.
Casey Cep has an article in the current New Yorker magazine that outlines and explains some of these details — particularly the attitude of most suffragists, who were white and middle-class, to the idea of including black women in their cause. They were, for the most part, against it.
. . . suffragists expressed pragmatic concerns that any federal enfranchisement would be seen by Southern states as an effort to undermine Jim Crow, the appallingly successful new strategy for preventing black men from exercising their rights. Suffs, as the women called themselves, had long disagreed about whether to pursue a national or a state-by-state strategy, in part because of the racism of some of their own white members, who opposed voting rights for African-Americans—not to mention Native Americans and, later, Asian-Americans—and so wanted individual states to determine for themselves who would, or, rather, would not, have the right to vote. Source: The Imperfect, Unfinished Work of Women’s Suffrage | The New Yorker
The suffragists of the time were being practical. To have embraced the rights of black women would have strangled their cause in its cradle, particularly in Southern states where Jim Crow laws had been carefully constructed to prevent black men from voting.
Suffragist leaders — Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, and many others — gave sugared assurances that granting them the right to vote would not necessarily mean black women had those same rights if states wanted to prevent it. They were accurate in their assessments as well as practical in their politics.
A few suffragists overcame the racism of the times and argued for truly universal suffrage. Prominent among them was Inez Milholland, a New York attorney who rode a white horse as the herald of the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, which set the suffrage movement onto its winning national strategy. Milholland was a member of the fledgling National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Unfortunately, Milholland died in 1916 of pernicious anemia, and her influence on the movement was lost.
Cep’s article is an excellent summary of the events and issues that drove the ratification fight to its final battle in Nashville in 1920.
Pictured above: Inez Milholland about to set forth leading the 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, which is the cover of my book on the event: Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effects on the American Political Landscape
Verse and Vision
We have a new video to add to our list this week. Emma Lazarus’ poems got me to thinking about the Statue of Liberty and the real history of America — history that is being ignored or erased in some quarters these days.
I am always open to suggestions about poets, poems or topics for videos. I’ve received several and would love to have more.
Meanwhile, here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April:
1492 and The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus: http://bit.ly/lazarus-newcolossus
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace: http://bit.ly/lovelace-toalthea
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: http://bit.ly/tennyson-lightbrigade
The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe: http://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest
Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott: http://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar
Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner: http://bit.ly/ole-bert
In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson: http://bit.ly/RLStevenson-2poems
To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell: http://bit.ly/Marvell-CoyMistress
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat
The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: http://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock
Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray: http://bit.ly
My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: http://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly/poe-theraven
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare: http://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18
And more are on the way.
American Library Association’s 11 ‘most challenged’ books in 2018
The Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Libraries Association has produced its annual list of “most challenged” books for 2018 in the latest edition of its magazine American Libraries. (https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2019-soal-report-final.pdf)
1. George, by Alex Gino
2. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss, illustrated by E. G. Keller
3. Captain Underpants series, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
4. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
5. Drama, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
6. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
7. This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
8. Skippyjon Jones series, written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
10. This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
11. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
According to the article accompanying the list:
Eleven books were chosen this year instead of the usual 10, because numbers 10 and 11 in the list were tied for the final position. Both books were burned by a religious activist in Orange City, Iowa, in October to protest the city’s OC Pride event. OIF expanded the list to include both, in order to spotlight the repressive intolerance exemplified by the act of book burning and to remember that “he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself” (John Milton, Areopagitica).
The battle for intellectual freedom is never over and never won. It goes on wherever there is intolerance, small-mindedness, and fear. Vigilance is always necessary.
Use the link above and find out much more about libraries — public, academic, and school — in America. If you do, you’ll find out things like the following:
There are more public libraries (16,568) than Starbucks cafés (14,606) in the US—a total of 16,568, including branches. Nearly 100% of public libraries provide Wi-Fi and have no-fee access to computers.
Finally . . .
There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind. Hannah Senesh, poet, playwright, and paratrooper (1921-1944)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, a deadly heat wave across the middle of America — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Carver’s rules for life, dethroning King Apostrophe, the author that Agatha Christie ‘remembered’: newsletter, July 12, 2019
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